I woke up in the middle of the night, the other night, as I am wont to do, and I inevitably check my phone to read headlines, to see if any email has come in, or to scroll through my Facebook feed (the obvious cons of sleeping with your phone next to you is a discussion for another time). I was appalled to read the headline about the shooting in the head office of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The editor, three main cartoonists, and six other journalists were shot and killed, as were two police officers.
The brazen midday attack was particularly unnerving in its flawless execution; as one witness described it, “I saw them leaving and shooting. They were wearing masks. These guys were serious…. At first I thought it was special forces chasing drug traffickers or something.” (AFP, quoted on BBC).
Sadly, untrue, as the better part of France’s police forces attempt to track down the killers.
Why the bloodshed? For cartoons such as this, where an ISIS fighter beheads the Prophet Muhammad (click the image for more cartoons). This cartoon is a bit out there, but the point made, I think, obvious, particularly in light of the recent spate of beheadings in the territory held by ISIS (I refuse to call it the Islamic State, as these hooligans have overrun parts of two countries, Syria and Iraq, each embroiled in essentially their own civil wars, and have let a viper into their homes as such. It is not unlike a domestic dispute going on in the front of the house, while a squatter quietly steals into the basement and sets up shop while the couple are distracted).
The cartoon is funny, in my opinion. You might not think so. That’s the beauty of our democratic rights to freedom of expression and speech…I choose to snort out loud, you might turn off the page. If I don’t like something, or don’t agree with a sentiment, I’ll either turn it off, turn the page, or vent out to someone who I think might care one way or the other.
The cartoon also put me to mind about a cartoon my brother and I concocted back in university when we both took an introductory course to the three main western religions: Moohammed and his Mooselems. Naturally, Moohammed was drawn as a bovine figure, and the Mooselems, as, well, moose (as tempted as I am to write the plural of ‘moose’ as ‘meese’…). In retrospect, a terribly ignorant thing to come up with when learning about Islam, but not much different from one of my favourite cartoons that I came across when I went to Queen’s University, captioned, “The Second Coming of Christ.” The cartoon depicted a stoned-looking Jesus lying in bed with a woman, who says to him, “Wow, twice in one night…” As a Catholic, I should find that cartoon incredibly offensive but, damn skippy, I think it’s hilarious. You might hate it, and that sentiment is okay too; it’s your right to like or dislike a topic.
But you don’t kill over something that you think is crass and terrible, and that’s just the crux of the issue. A satirical magazine purposely tries to make its readership, politicians, society, and culture feel uncomfortable, to question the status quo and cultural and social norms. Is such a bastion of free speech always right? No, it is not, but it is the point of satire to make us think.
I just hope the Onion isn’t next in line and, in the meantime, we need more cartoons.